"Memphis" in the O.C.

by Tony Reverditto
Sunday Nov 11, 2012

In 2002, the concept of the thought-provoking musical was developed by the late theatre producer, George W. George and got its legs at the North Shore Music Theatre with Theatreworks. In 2008, Memphis was produced at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and things just took off from there.

On October 19, 2009, it officially opened on Broadway and shortly thereafter, the smash-hit went on to win four Tony Awards including Best Musical in 2010. A performance was filmed live and was released in U.S. movie theatres. The first National Tour began in October, 2011 at The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee.

The story goes like this; Huey, a young white man, visitsthe underground Beale Street Club to listen to rhythm and blues. When confronted by the owner, Delray Farrell, about his attendance at a black club, he explains his passion and connection to the music being created there. Huey's infatuation and excitement for this music grows and while working at Collins Department Store, he completes tasks poorly and begs Mr. Collins to be reassigned to the record department where he guarantees he will play by the rules. Reassigned he quickly gives into his temptation to play black music in the store. Despite the popularity and record sales he generates, Huey is immediately fired for selling "race records."

Now a regular at the Beale Street Club, Huey takes a liking to Felicia Farrell, a young black singer. Even though there are no prospects in sight, Huey promises that he'll get her music on a mainstream, middle-of-the-dial radio station. Eventually, one of the radio station owners, Mr. Simmons, recognizes Huey from the ruckus at Collins Department Store and invites him into the studio to observe a "real" rhythm and blues disc jockey. However, when the DJ leaves the booth for a break, Huey seizes the opportunity and locks himself inside. He plays a "race record" on the mainstream radio station and the phones ring off the hook with requests by young white teenagers to play more. Mr. Simmons concedes and gives Huey a two-week trial run which he ecstatically accepts.

Unfortunately, this isn't the point where they live happily ever after, as usual there is always ignorance in the world and Felicia and Huey are faced with adversity and confines of Memphis. Finally, Felicia admits that she would marry Huey if she could. Will they emerge triumphant in spite segregation law?

Choreographer, Sergio Trujillo put his stamp on "Memphis," "Jersey Boys," "The Addams Family," "Next to Normal," "Guys & Dolls," "All Shook Up," "The Wiz," "Zhivago Mambo Kings," "The Marriage of Figaro," "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" and Disney's smash-hit "Tarzan," the list goes on and on.

Kyle Leland has the privilege to be the Dance Captain and swing in the National Tour Debut! The Dance Captain is a member of the company who maintains the artistic standards of all choreography and/or musical staging in a production. Some of his credits include Memphis (Broadway), Complexions, Contemporary Ballet, Pepsi, Lula Washington Dance Theatre and world tours of several music artists.

Where did you grow up and how did you first become involved in dance?

I grew up in Los Angeles, California; born and raised. Dance came to me indirectly as choreography given to me by my high school drama instructor as she set her musicals. Former training came later as at 16, I was invited by Debbie Allen to her academy after watching her production of Pepito's Story.

She asked for a few audience members to come onstage to speak to the performers about our thoughts on the performance. I was forcibly and lovingly, volunteered by my classmates and teachers. Ms. Allen was touched by what I'd said, sent two dancers to find me after the talkback and invited me to her studio to take free class. I arrived and after two classes was awarded a full scholarship. I stayed at Debbie Allen Dance Academy for three years before moving to New York.

You have toured as a back-up dancer with many different singers, who was your favorite?

All of them were brilliant experiences in their own way, but touring with Mylene Farmer in Europe was an incredible blessing. In the states, a select few might recognize Mylene. In France, tens of thousands of fans fainted, screamed and clawed their way through a sea of themselves to catch a front row glimpse of their idol. As her dancers we were treated like royalty; from the hotels we stayed in, to the venues we played, to the landscapes of the cities we visited, that tour was magic. I loved it.

What turn of events brought you to the production of "Memphis"?

After experiencing fame in France, I was humbled by life and began waiting tables in the Meat Packing District. After a year of that I looked in the mirror and was unrecognizable. What was I doing? Why wasn't I satisfied? Where do I belong? I put in my two-week notice with no prospective job in sight and immediately called my agent to tell her to put me back on the market.

A month later I was teaching hip-hop in New Jersey, assisting at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and auditioning as much as possible. Then Memphis called and this was my third audition for the show in a year and a half. Six years of New York auditions teaches you to detach a bit from the process-mostly for sanity and your well-being.

Though, something about leaving my serving gig and beginning to dance again, if only teaching, must have sent a clear message to the universe... I'm ready! And so it was, I booked "Memphis"
on a six-month replacement contract to stand in for an injured dancer while he recovered and was instantly transported to a new life.

This is your first national tour, what has been the most memorable moment so far?

I only get to pick one? Well, the night I went on for five different tracks has a hard time leaving me. I cover four tracks in the show, though I know all of them for teaching purposes. Due to a strange cocktail of vacations, injuries, and personal days, I went on stage as all four men that I covered and had to go on in a female track as well to create some sense of symmetry (as a man... I didn't have to portray a woman, thank God).

How has it changed your life?

Touring with this show has made me grow up. I'm not the same boy who started this adventure. If you want to understand yourself and the human spirit around you, book a national tour. Seeing the same faces everyday for an extended period of time reshapes you. Shifting personalities, transformative interpersonal relationships, trying to find center in an ever-changing array of cities and egos... I've really learned what it means to be Kyle Leland, despite the mercurial nature of being human. Some aspects of the individualized self remain the same no matter where you are or who you are with. I have learned to lean on those parts of myself and love them. I couldn't have learned that anywhere else but here.

As the dance captain for the production; you have had the opportunity to work with renowned choreographer, Sergio Trujillo, what has that been like?

Watching Sergio work was an enlightening experience. I've always had an inkling that I'd make it to the other side of the creative table and in Memphis, TN, during tech rehearsal, I really got the chance. To see him navigate the complex world of perfecting a show helped me to begin my new journey as dance captain. He spoke the language of every department, from the directors, to the sound men, to the lighting engineers, and also to his dancers obviously. He had a passion and assertiveness that I really admired and modeled my leadership upon. I learned to find my own niche in terms of my role here, but I still remember those weeks of our infancy and the part he played in shaping all of us.

I checked out your facebook page and it is obvious that you are a spiritualist; could you share one your favorite personal quote or philosophy with our readers?

Currently: "For every loss there is equal gain. For every gain there is equal loss."

What advice would you give aspiring actors, dancers and singers?

Be open. Be yourself. Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Emotions are your guidance; listen to what they tell you. Don't assume you know everything. When opportunity strikes, take it! Don't be too hard on yourself. Say what you mean and mean what you say. When you're alone at the end of the day, listen to the strange things you couldn't hear with all the people around you. Love and always allow some space for yourself to surprise yourself.

What is the ultimate message you hope the audience takes away from this show?

That labeling one another creates division and in the division, atrocities occur. Also, that honoring the differences while striving to see the similarities are wha life is truly about. That being free to love whomever we choose is the highest gift we can give to ourselves and to each other. That the dreamer risks everything in pursuing his or her dream, for the journey is more important than the destination he or she may never arrive at.

Finally, what is next for Kyle Leland?

I don't know. I follow my lessons...and as it stands now I have more to learn here. I have dreams of new creative artistic ventures and higher education and Yoga instruction and creating some roots in the cities I've seen and loved. But for now, the road is my teacher and I'm going with the flow. Follow me and find out.

"Memphis" runs through Sunday, November 18 at Segerstrom Center For The Arts at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets and more information call 714.556.2787 or go to scfta.org."

Copyright Rage Monthly. For more articles from Rage visit www.ragemonthly.com


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